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by Karen Fayeth

Misty Tequila Colored Memories

There I am, a random sunny weekend day in suburban Northern California, with a bag of groceries in my arms and holding hands with my husband.

We’re headed to the car in the parking lot when a low, slow Honda Civic rolls by. The car has been lowered, the wheels are miniscule and from inside the car comes some techno music. Not the multilayered computer-mixed techno of this modern era, but a thin synth-pushed techno that was quite reminiscent of the dance club music of the late 1980’s.

And suddenly I am no longer on a grassy knoll outside of Whole Foods in suburban California, but I’m wandering over the Paseo del Norte bridge and stumbling down Avenida de Juarez.

And I am inside Alive, a bar just over the border in Juarez, Mexico. If I listen hard enough, I can hear the sound of tequila slammers hitting the bar, syncopating with the terrible music blaring from the terrible sound system.

Alive, a venue located underground (the irony was not lost on me) with a tan blown-foam covering on the walls and a trip-worthy ramp leading to the bowels of the nightclub. I’d remind myself as often as possible not to touch anything and mind my own business.

But a bucket of Coronitas and a few slammers later and hey, let’s dance!

And me with my walnut sized bladder begging myself to hold it because the bathrooms at Alive were awful. Just…frightening.

But who cares! I was young! I was invincible! I was the only responsible person in a group of very irresponsible college kids. We were having fun. In another country. With no parents in sight! Freeeedom!

Yes, I was young and in my prime and not something like 43 and worried about jobs and money and is that cereal I just bought gluten free because wheat gives me tummy rumbles and oh yeah, did I get hemp milk because by god I’m lactose intolerant too. And can you read the label on this box because the print is too tiny and I sure as hell can’t read it.

It was a fleeting memory and I told it all to The Good Man. He replied “You and I had very different lives.”

And I suppose that’s true, we did.

But I can’t shake the memory. It’s not that partying in Juarez was a particularly good time. I was always the “good kid” and worried to death about all my friends and how to get them all back home safe and intact. I worried that one of the guys would get in a fight and we wouldn’t have enough money to pay the Federales to let him go. I worried my pockets would be picked clean by the kids (I had fended off more than a few). I worried that if the time came to run that I would be the one not running fast enough.

None of that really sounds like fun.

Those times are long past, something of stories and fairy tales as I wouldn’t go near Juarez for all the tequila in the world now.

I guess that memory on that sunny California day was something like fond reminiscence? I think it is more my youth that I miss than the crappy bars like Alive and Spanky’s and The Tequila Derby.

While searching for photos of Alive, I found this story on CNN. The author perfectly describes what it was like then and what it’s like now and does a much better job than I did.


Juarez was fun – before it was dangerous.





This 1950’s (or maybe 1960’s) era postcard, oddly, comes closest to my memories of Avenida de Juarez. In the late 1980’s that big bottle over the liquor store on the corner (left side of the photo) was still there.




Image from an eBay posting selling the original postcard.



I Know Your Shame

This morning I was at my local Peet’s waiting on a latte when I noticed the line behind me was getting pretty long. Like out the door. Commuters were starting to get the angry eyes.

The guy behind the counter pulling coffee shots and making drinks was moving slow, and when he noticed the backup, he got a little flustered. The more he eyed the long line of impatient workday people, the more flustered he got.

Suddenly, one of the other people behind the counter went, “whoa! Ok, you work the register” and then she physically pulled the guy away from the espresso machine and shoved him at the register. The young man sighed, dejected, turned to the next customer and said “can I help you?”

The kid was put in the hot spot, the bottleneck, the key role….and he couldn’t handle it.

And I felt bad for the guy. Then I slipped into the Wayback Machine.

The year was 1990. It was summertime. My folks were living in Carlsbad, so I went back home to C’bad to spend my summer between semesters at NMSU.

My salt-o-the earth parents insisted that I couldn’t enjoy the summer break. I was required to get a job.

Times were a little tough in Carlsbad in that year. Many of the potash mines had closed and jobs were a little scarce. Any good summer job had already been snapped up, and that left me with only one place that would hire me.

Taco Bell.

I slipped into my double knit polyester rust colored uniform, pinned my name to my chest, and went to work slinging beans.

I had worked a cashier’s job in high school, and one of my coworkers taught me how to count change and keep my till balanced to the penny. The Taco Bell people loved me. My till always balanced, I was pretty good as customer service, and I kept the place clean.

Inevitably, the manager decided to give me a shot working on the drive thru window.

The hot spot. The bottleneck. The key role.

It started out ok, I guess. I was a little confounded by taking the order but not taking money right away and keeping track of which car owed what amount and which order came next. The line of cars started to back up. It extended out onto Church street.

I managed to give the wrong order to at least three different cars.

Some guy came inside the restaurant all pissed off and complained to the manager. Cuz, you know, his tacos weren’t right. Or something.

Anyhow, I was unceremoniously pulled off drive through and put back on front register.

It was clear that I’d failed, and my failure was Very Bad. My coworkers wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I’d once been a star employee. I was now disgraced.

I was never given another shot at my nemesis the Drive Thru. Never had another chance to prove I could handle it (not that I cared, honestly).

I made it through the rest of that summer working register and of course went back to Las Cruces. Classes began again at NMSU and over the years I graduated, got a job and lived my life.

Twenty years later, the embarrassment is still fresh. Another minimum wage employee has learned the humiliation of not being quite good enough to handle the hot spot.

I hope he gets over it quicker than I did.
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Tangentially related, two years later, a F2 tornado ripped through town, injuring 6 people at the Taco Bell and ripping the bell off the top of the building.

The tornados in Carlsbad are the stuff of nightmares. My personal tornado story is well documented here.




A short Google search, and lo and behold, a photo of the 1992 tornado. The Internet is a weird thing.




Image from Southeastern New Mexico Weather Web Page.



In the Box

Despite the fact that The Good Man and I actually moved two weeks ago, we didn’t fully depart the old place until this past weekend.

That last mile is a sonofabitch.

I guess we just wanted to save the best for last? Or something. Basically, the last stuff to exit the old place was the stuff from deep in the dark recesses of storage under the house.

Let’s be honest, this stuff it wasn’t “our” stuff, it was my stuff. Lots and lots of boxes, some of which hadn’t been opened since they made the 1,200 mile ride from Albuquerque to the Bay Area.

The goal this weekend was to open those deteriorating boxes, get rid of what I could, and what was left, repack into fresh boxes and move on.

This proved to be a more difficult task than I had expected.

There were some surprises in those ol’ boxes. Especially the one I’d jauntily labeled “Karen’s Childhood.”

What a doozy that one was.

Sunday morning, there I sat on the cold floor of my now former garage, used my Buck knife to slice open the “childhood” box and dug around in there. I extracted a now almost fourteen year old gallon size Ziploc bag containing a bunch of papers and stuff I clearly didn’t know what to do with when I left Albuquerque.

I unzipped the bag, pulled out the contents and went through it piece by piece. I turned over photos, old love notes, and a ticket stub.

I gasped and my eyes got a little watery from both joy and memory.

The Wayback Machine gobbled me whole.

Here’s what I found:




The year was…um….yeah. 1990? Maybe 1989? Oh jumping jehosophat! I don’t know. A long time ago when my skin was elastic and my pants were not.

It was Ag Week at NMSU. An annual celebration that was a week full of fun, games, and dancing for all us kids in and around the Ag College. It culminated in a big concert and dance at the Pan Am center on the last day of the week.

This was a special year. My best good friend excitedly told me that her Uncle Bax would be performing at that year’s Ag Week. And by Uncle Bax, she meant Cowboy Poet and legendary New Mexican, Baxter Black.

That year there was another yahoolio on the bill with Bax. Some nobody named Vince Gill.

Yeah. That Vince Gill. Before anyone knew who he was.

Friday morning we were invited to come to the Ag Lobby to meet and greet. Bax was there holding court and signing autographs, and gave my best friend a huge hug when she walked up. We talked and laughed with Bax a while and then we went over to check out this Vince Gill character. He was wearing a pair of NMSU sweatpants, a three day old scruffy beard, and hair that hadn’t been washed in a good long while.

He was nice enough. Looked totally exhausted. He signed a glossy black and white promo photo (I found that in the bag too) and we walked away wondering who that rube was.

He put on a hell of a show that night. And so did Uncle Bax.

Let’s just say this, it was a hell of a party.

One for the history books. Sure would be fun to live that one again.

When the trash went out at the end of Sunday, the Bax and Vince ticket didn’t go with it. It went back into the Ziploc bag, then into a new box.

Maybe in another fourteen years I’ll slice open that box and discover it again.

And gasp.

And well up.

And remember.

Those were salad days, indeed.



A Thousand Miles from Nowhere

“But I have to tell you, when we were driving home, we were on some highway in Utah? That highway goes on forever! We were getting scared. The towns are like fifty miles apart!”

— my coworker talking about her family’s summer vacation to Bryce and Zion canyons in Utah.

So she said that and I laughed. A lot. Loudly.

She looked very offended. “It’s not funny, we were totally freaked out!”

Ah. That’s so cute. City kids. How utterly charming. I should know, I married one.

Speaking of the one I married, when we made the drive from Las Cruces to Albuquerque in the month of October a few years back, he was very adamant that we had to pack in quite a bit of water before we drove. Now, he’s not wrong. It’s just good thinking.

He also wanted blankets, flashlights and a first aid kit. We were venturing out into the desert and by god like the Boy Scout he used to be, we were going in prepared.

Again, nothing wrong with that. All very fair.

Except I used to drive that same 200 miles in the dead heat of August in a rickety old Mercury Bobcat with too many miles, not enough metal and every single little possession that I could cram inside. Well, everything except water, blankets and a flashlight.

I guess when you’re raised where towns are fifty miles (or a lot more) apart, these things don’t worry you.

Sure, one Thanksgiving I was driving back from Deming to Albuquerque and got caught in a really heavy snowstorm. So I got off the highway to a state road, put my Jeep in four wheel drive and drove slowly to the ranch home located at the bottom of Nogal Canyon. My friend’s folks live there and they took me in, gave me a hot meal and we played cards all night.

Once, south of El Paso, I got caught in a terrible rain and hail storm. So I pulled over to the side, listened to the radio and read a book.

Then there was the time I made the ride to Silver City in July and had to turn off the A/C and turn on the heater since my engine was starting to overheat as I climbed the hill in my very weak Dodge Shadow (now known as a Neon). I was a puddle of sweat by the time I got there, but it was nothing that a Route 44 from Sonic couldn’t cure.

Oddly enough, even on all the blisteringly hot days I hit the endless highways of New Mexico, I never broke down, never lost a tire, never had a reason to need a gallon of water and a blanket.

In February my best good friend drove me and my two godkids out to the Spaceport in Upham. We spent an hour or more on dirt roads with only cows to accompany us. I didn’t get worried. I didn’t get scared. What I did is feel calm. Really, really calm. Being where the eye can’t see another human (other than the people you chose to be with) is a very happy place for me.

So I apologized to my city friend. Then I advised she’s allowed to laugh at me when I slip off my nut over getting lost (again!) in San Francisco, and then I go the wrong way on that one section of California Ave while everyone honks and yells, and WHY IN THE $%^# can’t I make a left turn to get off Market Street!

It’s all about where you’re from, I guess.



The view from Upham. It’s a happy place.


Photo by Karen Fayeth, copyright 2010, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the far right hand column of this page.


Epiphany On Aisle Seven

So there I am, standing in my local Target store looking at something called Lactaid because evidently God has a sense of humor and I’m pretty sure I’ve become lactose intolerant.

I’ll spare you the details, but I’ve had a bowl of cereal for dinner this evening and I’m bloated up bigger than Airabelle, the Creamland Dairy hot air balloon (last seen at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta).

Pride goeth before a burp, and the thought of taking something to stop this feeling seems real, real appealing. I’m comparing and contrasting the relative merits of the store brand “dairy digestive aid” versus the name brand “dairy digestive aid” when in my peripheral vision, I note a man walk by behind me. I can tell it’s a man by the gait and by what he’s wearing as he shops the aisles.

I hardly notice my fellow shopper, but moments later, I get a whiff of cologne.

Oh my.

It’s that scent, that same deep musk and leather tinged scent that reminds me of someone I used to know. Suddenly I’m not in a Target store but I’m in the cab of an early model step side red Ford pickup truck sitting next to that memory and I’m mainlining that scent like a addict huffs paint.

The one I knew wasn’t especially tall but he was broad in the shoulders, owing to many long hours spent practicing his team roping skills. He was a dusky hued fellow of Native American extraction with ice blue eyes that made me go weak in the knees when he’d walk past me on campus.

We only went out on two dates because he was as squirrely as a rabid woodchuck, but oh my heavens was he handsome. Just those two dates were enough to make me smile wickedly to myself some twenty years later.

So I throw into my cart whichever box of digestive aid was in hand as I sensed the sweet smelling gent shopping in the next aisle. I look at the sign on the end cap containing the Target version of the Dewey Decimal system announcing, “dental hygiene,” and think to myself, “why, yes, I could go for something in a minty fresh breath.”

I fix my casual smile, not too wide, not too meager, just Mona Lisa enough, and sashay toward the mouthwash shelves. Memories of slow two stepping dances to the sounds of something like Alabama or George Straight or Merle Haggard fill my mind. I lean casually next to the Listerine and glance up at the object of my olfactory desire.

There stands a mid-fiftyish man with a boiler hanging over a belt holding up a pair of unflattering pants that evidently contain no butt a’tall. His unkempt hair graying rapidly from the top of his ratty hairdo to the bottom of his scruffy beard. What appears to be a remnant of dinner still lingers there on his, oh my is that really a knockoff Members Only jacket he’s wearing?

I beat a hasty retreat and three rows down, I huddle at the end of the hand sanitizer aisle. I need to regroup.

That was, as they say in the vernacular, a buzz kill. Suddenly visions of New Mexico State Ag Week dances under a clear high-desert starry sky vanish and I find myself once again an almost forty-two year old woman in a Target store. I take inventory of my own raggedy outfit, with frowsy hair escaping a hasty pony tail, glasses framing my weakening eyes and a hand cart full of things like GasX and Lactaid announcing that not only was that guy not the guy that I once knew, but I am in no way that girl I wish I was any longer.

The girl I am now needs to buy some Ziploc bags so she can pack her non-dairy, non-wheat, low-fat lunch to take to my “is this really what I wanted to be when I grew up” job and slog my way through another day, as my tummy churns and my hair grays and I no longer ride in red pickup trucks and wonder what it will be like when I’m all grown up.

This is what it will be like. This is what it is. Just me and my rumbly tumbly and enough freedom and disposable income to make it interesting. When I’m done daydreaming and remembering and purchasing my products of middle aged despair, I get to go home to The Good Man who smells of soap and cute boy and is a pretty gosh darn fine reason for going home.

For some reason, even with my frowsy ponytail and corrective lenses and an occasional bout of lactose intolerance, he still thinks I’m pretty cool. And pretty.

Crazy ol’ fool. (Me, not The Good Man)


Awesomest Street in Chicago



Photo from coolead‘s Flickr photostream.


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